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On Sunday 20 December 2020, New Zealand Red Cross’ First Aid Administrator, Kathleen Morris, woke up early and sat on her deck to enjoy her morning coffee. Her husband Merv, who had gone for a walk earlier that morning, came back and joined her on the deck with his breakfast in hand. Then, the unexpected happened.
“He was sitting in a chair next to me and, within moments, he just lunged off his chair. I ran towards him, calling his name then, put him into the stable side position, and went to grab the phone,” recalls Kathleen.
As soon as the operator answered the phone, Kathleen started CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
Kathleen has been working for New Zealand Red Cross in Dunedin for the past nine years. She has gone through her share of first aid courses, yet this was the first time she had to use her training.
“I remember thinking, ‘oh am I doing this correctly?’ On the mannequin, you hear the 'click', 'click', but on a person, you don’t.”
“I did CPR on Merv for 10 minutes before the emergency services arrived. They came in, we were on the deck so we cleared some chairs and [they went] straight in with the defibrillator, seven shocks with CPR in between,” says Kathleen.
Kathleen left the paramedics and moved inside to call her daughter to let her know what had happened and arrange to meet each other at Dunedin Hospital.
“We didn’t know if he was going to live or not,” Kathleen recalls through a shaky voice.
“The police took me to the hospital and by the time I got there my daughter had arrived.”
When Kathleen arrived at Dunedin Hospital, her husband Merv had already been moved to the intensive care unit, where he spent the next three and a half days in an induced coma.
Merv suffered a cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions.
“They told me that only two percent of people who have a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital actually survive. The CPR that I’ve learnt with Red Cross over the years obviously set me up to get in there. I knew exactly what I was doing,” says Kathleen.
Taking recovery one step at a time
Four months since the accident, Kathleen has figured out the best way to move forward is by focusing on her mental health. From the morning her husband collapsed, to helping him get back into a normal routine, she is now learning to shift the focus onto her wellbeing.
“He struggled with seeing me struggle. He doesn’t remember it, it all just happened to him and he was in a coma,” Kathleen mentions with her voice breaking.
“The unknown of why it happened in the first place, that’s been the hardest thing for me. Because Merv is a slim and fit person, you don’t expect this to happen to someone so fit and active.”
While at work, Kathleen often found herself worrying about how her husband was doing at home or at work.
“Trying to focus, and stay focus, and not think about him at home, that has started to take its toll on me. The GP had to explain to him that the trauma he’s been through and the trauma I’ve been through are actually quite different. He has no memory of it, where I will be waking up at three am, reliving it all,” says Kathleen.
“I have no memory whatsoever [of the event], I remember the Sunday and I remember waking up several days later in hospital. I’ve struggled with what’s happened and what Kath has had to go through. I’m not sure how I will accept all this, not sure at all”, says Merv.
Kathleen took her recovery slowly. Easing her way back to work, taking the opportunity to work fewer hours, or from home, with the full support of her Red Cross whānau.
After nine years with New Zealand Red Cross, Kathleen decided to step down from her role to allow herself the space to prioritise her wellbeing.
“I have loved my job, but I’ve come to that point where I need to think about myself and try and get some peace.”
Be prepared, take a first aid course
Through her experience, Kathleen has a simple message to everyone: be prepared by taking a first aid course.
“Everyone should be doing a first aid course at some point. It builds your confidence to jump in and start when you have to,” says Kathleen.
Kathleen and Merv live 10 minutes outside of Dunedin and there aren’t any Automated External Defibrillators (AED) nearby. For her peace of mind, Kathleen purchased an AED for her home, which her neighbours are welcome to use.
“If I hadn’t [stepped in], I wouldn’t have him with me. [Even] if I hadn’t succeeded, I would have to live with that but at least I tried.”
“It’s the greatest gift to save a life.”
Know what to do
Accidents can happen anytime and anywhere. Here are a few ways you can learn first aid: